Our Western world is brilliant and bustling. Full of colour, convenience, creativity and, just to continue my alliterations, consumerism.

We consume, we hoard, we overeat and we do it all VERY quickly. Now don’t be offended, I might not be talking to you, so read on, as far removed as you need to be of course!

Across the board: from clothing and shoes to homewares and houses. From newest season products to latest restaurants. And yes there is great pleasure and beauty in change + experiencing the food/clothing that people have made for us to enjoy. But take care of how it affects you + your body. That body you only have one of.

The Blue Zones is a concept by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain who collected data regarding the lives of centenarians (people who live over 100 years) in certain geographical areas of the world. Furthering the studies, Dan Buettner, a National Geographic discoverer, named these Blue Zones to be in Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Coast Rica) and a seventh-day Adventists community (Loma Linda, California).

Each Blue Zone area showed us a moderate energy intake diet or a non-indulgent food culture. The Okinawa of Japan know it as Hara Hachi bu, (Hara hachi bun me 腹八分目/はらはちぶんめ). This comes from a Confucian teaching that tells people to eat until they are 80% full. This translates to “eat until you are 8 parts out of ten full.”

The Bible instructs us to not be gluttons, to be mindful of ‘too much.’ There are accounts of young prophets becoming the strongest of the kings’ men only eating fruit and vegetables and not excessive meats/wine as the other young men did.

It seems Ancient traditions through many cultures tell their people to eat less, to not over-indulge or over-consume. Whereas ‘more, excess, consume, surplus’ are words we are drawn to more often in the West.

Many traditional diets, such as the Okinawa focus on vegetables, fruits, legumes, soy foods, whole grains, fish and limited red meats and believe these to be a basis for health + healthy ageing.

These simple diets were found to reduce cardiovascular disease, heart disease and minimise free radical production (cell-damaging molecules that are created via our bodies metabolising energy we get from food).

What does that mean? High antioxidant diets are essential for longevity and found in plant-rich diets. Simple. They also experience lower stroke rates, healthy cholesterol levels and optimal blood pressure levels. Cancer rates? You guessed it, lower. 50-80% lower in fact, across breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate. These Okinawa Japanese are fighting fit! Hip fractures and dementia cases: rare.

Now, eating until you are 80% full decreases the risks of obesity. It teaches you to appreciate your food + not indulge in a way that constantly consumes.  The strategy itself is a discipline that teaches the stomach to tell you how full it really is. 20 minutes after stopping is when you feel the fullness. How many of us stop, rest and wait? (In any area of life?!)

When younger generations from the Okinawa people embraced the Western style of eating (lots and processed), their heart disease risks rose to match those in the United States and their life expectancy decreased by 17 years.

vegetable prep in Japan

I believe it’s important to take a leaf out of these older cultures. Sure, we have amazing technology + convenience. Plus our world is becoming so ‘in reach’ ; we from south pacific island countries can enjoy Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, we can buy Alaskan Salmon through to Italian vintage wines. Everything is available to us. It’s both beautiful and a lesson in being a bit thoughtful of how we consume.

You might wonder then, how do we enjoy the options that we have here yet take the disciplines on that these cultures have perfected. The practice of Hara Hachi Bu is exciting to me – that I could train myself to need less. I want to take the time to embrace this way of eating and I think it will take habit breaking to make it happen, so join me!

Start with mindfulness – how do you know when you’re full?? Well, we never give ourselves time to ask the question. We have usually crossed the line way back.

Fullness being the opposite of emptiness happens as you eat and drink. The human stomach can grow from 50ml to 4L!!! Surely, we should stop before reaching that capacity? As you become fuller, the empty feelings are replaced with a gentle pressure or a lack of a hollow feeling. As you feel this pressure, stop eating. Makes perfect sense right?

The following are more ways to help you retrain your head and stomach. It might take time to Hara Hachi Bu my friends. It’s worth it.

Serve yourself less. The easiest way to start this change: instead of leaving a bit on your plate each meal (which I find is wasteful and requires more discipline), try serving a little bit less than you usually would. Then before going back for seconds. Think am I hungry? Sit, have a sip of water + chat and see if you are actually satiated. If you need to serve more, try the veggie/salad part of the dish. instead of round two of the meat and carbohydrates.
2. Ask for small or medium portion size – not large. This goes without saying particularly with fast food options as they don’t satiate no matter the size!
3. When shopping for meats + pre-portioned foods, think do you NEED the bigger sizes or are they just a want?
4. Buy new plates that are smaller. If you look at glass + plate sizes now compared to 50yrs ago, the difference is massive. Literally.
5. When at functions and events, can you avoid the starter dishes? You can end up eating the equivalent energy of 2 meals just in 5-6 canapes + 2 glasses alcohol. Try one only + wait to enjoy your main.
6. Order entrees. You might find you keep nice and full.
7. When cooking, serve the portions up and then place leftovers straight into fridge containers so that you don’t pick later.
8. Think back to when you had packed or homemade lunches. They were generally a good portion. Now we have big lunches with all the trimmings and then do it all again at dinner time. Our normal is bigger. Eat big breakfasts, medium lunches and conservative sizes dinners.
9. Always have a snack after dinner? Do you actually need it?
10. Put your knife and fork down each time you take a bite of your meal. You’ll find you take longer and noticeably don’t over eat. Even better – try eating with chopsticks.
11. How often are you eating out at indulgent eateries? Save your pocket and waistlines by limiting to occasions not weekly (daily?!) activities. Your body will thank you.

As always, if you’d like to find out more about Hara Hachi Bu or if you have any nutrition questions, you can email Bess, or you can read more about Blue Zones and Okinawa.